The Dentist’s Diary – 521st

On these guys we place our hopes for 2017!!!

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So after such an auspicious and quite spectacular start to ‘2017 The Year of Culture’ in the City of Kingston upon Hull, Hull FC yesterday did their bit towards carrying that forward and made their own bit of history as the first Club to host a game against the first truly Trans-Atlantic sports team.

To quote the rather irritating practice of local and national newspapers of late, here are the five things I learned from yesterday afternoons run out against the Toronto Wolfpack.

Firstly, we all found out I think that the RL, (in their rush to appease Bradford by re-instating the Bulls into the Championship with a team that’s still in disarray and with less than two weeks to go to the season starting) really have missed a trick. This Toronto side, with their devil may care approach, would be a real force in the Championship and would have brought a bit of real razzamatazz and a great competitive spirit to the competition. Secondly we also had it confirmed that Albert Kelly is, (providing that he keeps his ‘nose clean’), going to be a real FC star and his signing could well prove to be the best bit of business in Super League this year. Yesterday he finished brilliantly as good a try as we’ll see all season.

Thirdly, the youngsters showed in the last quarter that despite what we thought we learned about them at Castleford and against Rovers, they can tackle and for the final 22 or so minutes they defended magnificently and force the opposition to chance their arm and lose possession a time or two. Fourthly, if the Canadians wanted a run out in conditions akin to those of their country of origin, then they couldn’t have picked a better day; it was bloody perishing! However, they still played some lovely expansive rugby in that first half. And fifthly I think our attacking combinations looked really promising and if we can get them the ball early, our backs are going to be absolutely deadly this coming season.

You know, despite the cold and the advertised line up’s, I was quite looking forward to this one, particularly after a good Saturday tea time in the Tiger in Beverley with Landlord Allen and Ray and his pals, when we digested what was to come and looked forward to seeing the Fonua/Griffin and Kelly/Sneyd combinations taking to the field for the first time.

The meagre gate reflected, I think, the bitter conditions, but there were still some heroes who made the journey to see a game which was packed with firsts. None of which were more significant than it being the Wolfpacks first bow in the British Game. It was history in the making and so my pal Richard Kirk and his boys made the trip all the way from Surrey to be there. It was just a 24 hour round trip, that included the lads seeing the debut of the Canadian team and in a nod to the more serious side of the City of Culture, an introduction to it; in the form of their first ever Patty and Chips washed down with a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock. Before with their knowledge expanded, they headed back down the A1 to re-introduce civilisation to the South of England!!

I also bumped into readers Harry and Dick. Les and Billy K and before the game, whilst we queued in Sainsbury’s on Anlaby Road for some sweets (behind bizarrely another great bit of Hull Culture, a woman in boots gloves and her pyjama’s), I met up with the great Uppo, who featured in here a lot straight after our adventures at Wembley last year.

To be honest it was great to see so many old pals again and to enjoy a real game of no pressure rugby with them, despite the fact that is was played at a temperature only just above freezing point. And believe me it was blooming cold, in fact it was a good old fashioned three shirts and two pairs of trousers afternoon, but once we had taken our seats, the game certainly kept us amused.

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Mahe Fonua, a great first half, one assist, two tries, a bit of a nightmare in the second half and a few swear words to boot!!! He’ll be fine!

In fact, the first half saw both sides provide us with some class entertainment and some great passing and handling in difficult conditions. I thought that the Wolfpack looked really good and were a team that should walk the Division One Competition next year. As I said earlier, in my opinion they would certainly do credit to the Championship.

It seemed to me that there was a change of direction from our Coach last week when after declaring before they went to Portugal that it would be same again and a load of kids playing against the Canadians, all of a sudden it was a much stronger team that was put out. Three players Fonua, Talanoa and Watts who had not played so far, were included and to my reckoning we were down to around 7 or 8 players who would be in our starting 13 still missing out. Then after our ‘Captains Run’ and open training session on Saturday, Shaul, Josh Griffin and Marc Sneyd were added to the squad and all of a sudden the KCOM game looked a lot more of an appealing prospect.

Was that change down to the players being desperate for some game time, the fact the TV cameras were there or perhaps because the Club received a lot of flak after the teams they fielded at Castleford and against Rovers where compared with the line up’s put out in those games by the opposition? Or did we just need to sell a few tickets? Well I’m told it was the former because several players just wanted to get out there and get a game as they’d trained for so long without a proper ‘hit up’!!

In the end we certainly learned quite a bit about Albert Kelly’s amazing ability to know when to run, when to stick and when to pass; he’s good…very good. I also thought that Liam Watts, who played such long minutes and led the youngsters from the front in the second half, showed great tenacity and spirit in that leadership. He’s been moved up into the leadership group this year and he certainly showed it yesterday. A big season beckons for him I think! Jansin Turgot is also a player that had a thing or two to prove because he has been singled out for big things and I thought he did really well too. Jordan Lane started the game and certainly didn’t look out of place either. In the ranks of the First Team regulars, Jamie Shaul looked really sharp and completely turned the Toronto defence inside out for his try, which looked simple because of the sheer pace he injected into the move. Although it took them a bit of time to settle at the start of the second period it was also, I thought, great to see in a last quarter in which the visitors enjoyed the better field position, how well some of our youngsters muscled up and kept the opposition at bay. Whilst after losing Whiting to diarrhoea and sickness before the game Toronto provided excellent opposition. How nice it is that after over 11 years of writing about Hull KR in here I can at last spell diarrhoea properly!

On the minus side and despite that spirited defence I just highlighted, I think that with the exception of Dale, Turgot and Litten, I’m still a tad ‘non-plussed’ with some of our other youngsters thus far, although that could well change because its early days yet, but the one thing that has to improve is the need to get out of that bad habit from last season of giving away too many penalties. I don’t really care if the referee is crap or whether the opposition are playing for them, we have to stop conceding penalties particularly to holding down in our own 20-yard area, because they are absolute killers, that put you on the back foot and in Super League that can often lead to disaster.

Although our Coach seems to believe differently, I still don’t think that Dean Hadley will ever be a replacement hooker either. Despite young Jez Litten showing up really well, if anything ever happens to Danny Houghton we could be in a bit of trouble if the plan is to rely on Dean, he’s a second rower come loose forward of much promise, but not a nine for me. On that score perhaps we should have bent over backwards to bring O’Brian in from Bradford.

However, all in all it was a good afternoon out, in good company and with some good rugby on show. A brilliant piece of interplay from Sneyd and Kelly leading up to the first Fonua try was worth the admission fee alone and how good too it was to see that despite the usual brain fart or two, Mahe has lost none of his potency near the line while Griffin is a tower of strength in the centre and looked great. So a good run out against what could end up being a very good new acquisition to the Rugby League. I’ll follow Toronto with interest.

Before yesterday, the launch of the world’s first Trans-Atlantic professional sports team had been dismissed as a stunt destined for failure in some quarters. Some of us also thought that the bosses at the Rugby League should be moving to help heartland clubs who are obviously struggling at present, rather than putting all their eggs in the basket of a brave Toronto gamble that seems to many to just be another gimmick.

Yet you know, I think yesterday we saw that they are far more than that. This week the Toronto coach Paul Rowley, the former Leigh Centurions boss, insisted the club will prove they are worth their place in the game and I think put the situation in context. In the Daily Star He said: “Rugby League is a very dog eat dog world and sometimes people are quick to put their foot on your head if you are drowning, rather than give you a hand up. We understand that and know we have to stand on our own two feet and the clear message from the start is that we’re prepared to do that. If you put £10 on a 200-1 bet your chances are a little less favorable than a 2-1 bet but if you win, you win big”

On the heartland teams that have over the years failed to make good and struggled to survive year on year he continued, “Those 2-1 bets have been around for 150 years in our game and have continually failed so how long do you persist with them when they’re not working? The world has changed and we need to decide if we’re going to change with it or are we going to stay stuck in the doldrums”. So Rowley certainly thinks it’s a good idea and I can actually see his point, but as for me, well I’m afraid I’m a bit skeptical about it all and I guess, after seeing such schemes falter on the rocks of practicality and a lack of interest, at Cardiff, Kent Invicta, Carlisle, Nottingham, Mansfield, North Wales etc. etc. in the past it’s a question of ‘we’ll see’. Still the fledgling Club certainly secured a massive fillip last week as they confirmed a lucrative deal with Canadian Airline Air Transat.

That three-year sponsorship will see Air Transat become the Toronto Wolfpack’s official air flight partner, with the airline providing round-trip flights for all visiting clubs and offering cut price additional flights, as needed each season, for fans of visiting teams. Will it work? Well only time will tell on that one but it’s a big punt and a gamble that could see some of our struggling heartland Clubs sidelined somewhat and yet I guess it’s also a brave adventure. If you take Paul Rowley’s point of view, then us old traditionalist should get real and perhaps we should as a game be looking at calling time on some of the clubs that have struggled for years and look towards projects such as this Canadian venture as the future of the game. But as I say, although that’s all good in principle and food for thought; We’ll wait and see shall we?

There’s a lot of buzz around the club at present about Jake Connor and although Lee Radford has perhaps indicated that he might start on the flanks this year, many who have watched him train feel that he is a player with great hands, good feet and a wonderful array of passes in his armory. In fact, a few already feel he’s going to be a massive asset as our Club moves forward. He sustained a minor knee injury after two weeks in training, but is now back and going well and let’s hope that’s the last we hear of that particular mishap, because he is an exciting prospect. He certainly wasn’t risked this last weekend, which was a smart move by the Club, because there is no point in rushing him through that injury at this time of the year.

The player is hell bent on playing in the halves, but with either Marc Sneyd or Albert Kelly to shift that is going to be quite a task. He could get a run at centre or even at full back I guess, but we are so well blessed with backs these days, it’s hard to see what will happen with Jake in the coming weeks. Of course with injuries etc, he’s bound to eventually get a start, but a few at the club feel already that, when fit, he is too good to not be included in the team. That will no doubt be what is perpetuating the rumour that this season Lee will start with a bench of three forwards and a back and that the latter will be Jake Connor. If he shines when he gets a go next week at Salford, it will certainly be interesting to see where Radford ends up playing him won’t it?

It’s a great headache to have for the FC boss, but two into three doesn’t go in the halves and I don’t think that there is much doubt that at Wakefield, Kelly will start with Sneyd do you? With all the talk there is about his ability, it’s going to be interesting but, I for one can’t wait to see Connor playing with the full first team in the future.

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The class of 2017!

Those fans who went to Castleford on Boxing Day got an early look at Josh Griffin in a Hull shirt, but after yesterday we are all now, I think, relishing the chance to watch his link up with Fetuli Talanoa blossom in what should be a great wing partnership. Paul Clark of the Mail had the opportunity to watch the two together as they trained in Portugal and he waxed lyrical about how that partnership is going to be a big force for Hull FC in 2017. With Sneyd feeding the two, it is the general consensus that we need, (just as Salford did to facilitate that amazing win at the end of that Million-pound game last season), to get the ball to Griffin as early as possible.

At times, when we were under the cosh last term, the game-plan needed to include the ability to break back at the opposition, but more often than not we just got into a wrestle and indeed on occasions came through. But in the later stages of the campaign, teams like Leeds, Castleford and Wigan came to the KC and instead of getting into the biff and bash down the middle they won games late on by striking back at our small lead as we flagged physically and they then pinching the points. So we need to develop that ability to counter as well, as teams will be expecting us to try and bash wins out again and with the three we have down that left edge now we just need to ‘get them the ball early and often’. In Paul Clarke’s words we have to, “Get them some early ball and those two are going to tear the opposing right edge apart week in week out” Let’s hope he is right but our back division does look pretty potent this year doesn’t it?

The wealth of strength in depth we have at present reminds me of that great team we had at the start of the 1980’s. To build for that golden era Arthur Bunting strengthened the forwards first
with Farrer, Norton, Stone, Birdstall, Lloyd etc. but then the quality started to arrive in the backs, with Evans, the New Zealanders, Dean, Harkin and Topliss coming in and with youngsters like Schofield, Crooks and Proctor coming through the ranks, we were treated to a fabulous few years in the history of our Club. There is no doubt however that at present in our current squad, the young guns in the pack will need to step up if injuries occur ‘en masse’ in the middle. I’m afraid, some of them have failed to impress me much thus far. That said, it appears to be out there on the edges where there is now talent in abundance. If we play what is generally accepted as our best starting 13 then Naughton, Lancaster, Logan and Tumavive are all waiting in the wings along with Connor and providing they play up to their potential then the competition for places in the backs will be red hot. I think we will change our tactics a bit this year and get the ball wider earlier and if we do, we could well be in for some great entertainment next season.

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I never saw a picture of the team in Portugal where the sun wasn’t shining; bit different to here eh?

How good it was at yesterday’s game to see that fan at half time win the (kick the) ball in the boot competition and the prize of £500, it was a great sum to win and one that, with such a meagre gate, no doubt took a lump out of the Club’s income. Although as the great cheer went up from the crowd as the ball nestled in the car boot, I don’t think there is any truth in the rumour that Adam Pearson could be heard in the West Stand shouting “Best out of three?”

So to rant time and I’m getting really fed up and not a little irritated again by the antics of the SMC at the KCOM Stadium. I noticed this week that the Management Company’s website contained no reference whatsoever about our game yesterday, (with the exception of a small advert) and I have to add that the rumour is that their site isn’t allowed to contain reference to rugby at all now, but rather uses phrases such as ‘Due to an event taking place at the KCOM Stadium this Sunday supporters using Tigers Travel (for the trip to Chelsea) should note the following car parking details’. Those details that followed included cars left by travelling football fans being positioned on the South Stand car park usually used by FC supporters. On occasions Hull FC have in the past not been able to use parts of the Walton Street fairground car park on such days but yesterday part of the South Stand Car Park was reserved for City supporter’s cars only; I wonder if we would be allocated part of that car park were the boot on the other foot and we were away at a big game when City were at home?

The whole climate of working relations improved with the appointment of the last manager of the SMC but he’s been relieved of his duties now and things seem to be going back to what has over the years been the ‘normal’. I guess after what has happened over the past seasons and the apparent quest to reduce Hull FC and their fans from joint tenants to also rans, we shouldn’t be too surprised really. There appears to be little that our Club can do about this treatment, but I still think that as always as fans and as a Club, we have to watch this situation closely. As for Rugby league fixtures at the Stadium not even getting a mention, I think it’s all a bit disrespectful really, but then again, why should we be surprised?

On a brighter note the club last week certainly seemed pleased to report over 2,000 new members, the lowest ever number of non-renewing pass holders and many areas of the ground sold out, as fans prepare for another exciting season ahead. The fact is that in a climate where there are so many distractions with regard to leisure spend, to have more than ever renewing and the none renewals down to an all-time record level of just 11%, has to be the best news we could ever hear as we set out on an important season. Retaining fans is of paramount importance but the reigning Challenge Cup holders were also able to report a staggering 65% increase in junior memberships and one block of the new-look Toys “R” Us Family Zone completely sold out already!

Of course this success comes by and large on the back of a memorable season on the field and after a conscious effort by the club to support and reward club members off it. With all three occupied stands now at least 15% more full than last season and seats becoming hard to come by in the East Stand, we should be in for a great atmosphere at the KCOM next time around, shouldn’t we?

One interesting indicator was that memberships in the West Stand have increased by over 40% which is great for a section of the terraces that has in the past been the least popular. Around the place 6 blocks are already pretty crammed with four over 90% full for the first time, whilst a further two sections have completely sold out! The last time we heard from the Club on the subject we had sold over 8000 season tickets which I believe is over 1600 up on last year. The good thing is that doesn’t include general members who haven’t paid to get admitted to games or buy one get one free tickets issued through the family ticket scheme. Take up of the latter is in fact very low indeed and only around 150 in total, which, in the context of the rest of our sales, I found quite strange really!

You will remember if you are a regular reader that last week I used the Codgers spot to cover the two semi-finals in 1985 against Castleford, the second of which was a real blood and guts affair with a bit of thuggery thrown in too. Following that write up I heard this week from Bill Dalton the Club historian and a guy that I have come to know really well over the last few years. Bill is a real aficionado of all things Hull FC and as I said of him in my latest book ‘Someone who has forgotten more about Hull FC than I can remember’, it was great to hear from him this week when he wrote to me concerning some interesting matters about the number of games we play in a season and so I share them with you all here. Bill said,

“It was great once again to read your account of the two Semi-Finals in 1985. I recently did some revision in my Hull FC Biography (nb a massive project of a book, that Bill is currently writing) and covered them in some detail. It was a great – and fascinating – time to be around Hull FC then. I recall Peter Sterling saying some words of condemnation about Mal Reilly and that he would never play for a team that he had anything to do with. A year or two afterwards, when Sterlo had finished his test career (3rd Test at Sydney Football Stadium 1988 when GB beat em -I was there) he was reported to be signing for Leeds, who by then had Mal Reilly as Team Manager!! Whenever however I recall that 1985 season and the great Wembley Final, my mind somehow wanders to marvel at the number of games Hull played (We also drew the Quarter Final with Widnes, adding a Replay). We played no less than 47 and Rovers played 48 the year after.

Over the years that I have done my stuff and looking at the Stats, it is obvious how the numbers of games played has diminished, but the record of games in an RL season is, indeed, held by Hull with no less than 52 in 1927-28. They reached the Yorkshire Cup Final but had a Replay on the way. Then reached the Semi-Final of the Cup, but drew with Rochdale in the 2nd Round and drew twice with Batley in the Quarter Final (both 0-0) before sealing it 6-2 at Headingley in the 2nd Replay, only 5 days after which they had to play Swinton in the S/F. Nine games in the month of March and Good Friday (v Rovers) wasn’t until April 6th! The 52 matches included two which were abandoned in the 2nd Half but which were subsequently replayed.

Widnes also broke the Half-Century in 1963-64 with 51 matches after they made a habit of drawing Cup Ties. But another astonishing Record and I can’t see it ever being bettered nowadays was that Jack Davies, our Centre Three-Quarter, played in 50 of Hull’s matches in that 1927/28 season”

Wow that was as usually really interesting stuff from Bill and just goes to show how the game has changed over the years. Thanks again for that insight Mr Dalton. Keep ‘em coming!

Well since the last Diary I was pleased to attend the first meeting of Danny Houghton’s Testimonial Committee and it was certainly an interesting night. As you will no doubt have read, Feke’s short 3-month Testimonial to honour his great service to the game is likely to start shortly and so it likely that Danny’s year will run from 1st July 2017. Danny has been and indeed still is a tremendous servant to the Club and as such deserves our support and a good testimonial year. There are already some exciting things coming together and I will keep you posted on them as they develop and I also hope to be able to release a new book (in aid of Danny’s fund) around that time too. But more of that later. For now, it just remains to ask you all to think about any events you, your friends or your pubs and Clubs would like to run as part of Danny’s Year. The big events are all well and good but it is the regular, Quiz and Race nights, ‘get togethers’ and pub celebrations that really make such years. If you or anyone you know fancies promoting such an event for Danny or you know anyone who would like to get involved, please let us know by sending a text to 07415 365223 and we’ll get back to you to discuss it.

So to Codgers Corner and this week I want to look back at a game that always sticks in my mind when I remember the old days of the 70’s when times were really hard. So, I hope you’ll enjoy a trip back to a great win this time played out at Fartown Huddersfield, on Sunday 15th April 1973. I didn’t go to many away games back then, but I remember that two new sections of the M62 had just been opened west of Leeds and as motorways were still quite a ‘novelty’, we thought we would travel over there, have a go on them and take in the game at the same time.

Back then we had a good record at Fartown, having won on our last two visits there and on a lovely Spring afternoon I drove over in my little Spruce Green Ford Anglia with a couple of pals. Clive Sullivan was our Coach at the time and he picked a strong side which despite a few long term injuries, looked capable of getting another win. With around 250 other Hull FC fans we watched from the towering terracing behind the try line. It was a poor crowd that day and at times, with just over 1200 in the cavernous Stadium, it was like playing in a Cathedral.

The FC players ran out to a hearty round of ‘Old Faithful’ and we kicked off into the bright sunshine at 3-00pm. Both teams were a bit lacklustre in the early exchanges particularly in defence, which is hardly surprising on such an unseasonably hot day that was more suited to cricket than rugby. We took the lead though when after only two minutes a clip across the head from Senior, saw Chris Davidson need attention and Boxall obliged with an angled penalty that put us 2-0 up.

Four minutes later we scored again as Huddersfield were caught ‘napping’ as we forced them back and Mick Harrison broke through. Devonshire and Crane carried play on and worked the ball to the right where full back Gereghty shot through a gap on the 25-yard line and touched-down without a hand being laid on him. We should have kept a firm grip on the game from then on but some sloppy passing and even sloppier tackling saw us fall behind. Firstly, Hooson scored with a penalty after the ball had hit both the upright and the cross bar and from the restart Calvert went through a massive gap in our right hand defence to touch down. We didn’t learn much from this slip shod defending and soon Senior was careering through to score again and from 5-0 up we were 10-5 down. Then five minutes later, on the 30th minute, we snapped into action. Davidson put the home defence under pressure with a well-judged grubber kick and as Alf Macklin almost went over, Len Casey picked up the loose ball he dropped behind him and plunged through the ruck of players to score.

Looking altogether more aggressive we were all heartened when Keith Wardell smashed three Huddersfield forwards away in the tackle and then Portz saw his chance down the middle and nipped in and with a Boxall goal we were in the lead again 15-10. It was certainly end to end stuff as once again having done all the hard work we eased off and in the last five minutes of the half ‘The Fartowners’ retook the lead with two well worked scores. Firstly, Flanagan found the space he needed to nip in beside the posts and then when we were caught off side from the kick off, Hooson added a penalty and we trailed at the end of the first half 17-15.

It was certainly exciting stuff for the neutral supporter but for us lot basking in the sun on the terraces it was a real roller coaster of a game.

Six minutes after the break Weavill the Hudderfield second rower was caught off side and Boxall levelled with a spiralling penalty from 40 yards out. Back came Huddersfield as some poor discipline in the tackle from Mick Crane saw Hoosen kick a penalty and then a drop goal (worth 2 points) and at 21-17 we all felt that a defeat seemed eminently likely. However just as all seemed lost, we witnessed a piece of pure magic from Player/Coach Clive Sullivan. Un-noticed by us all he had swopped positions with Mick Crane and moved into the centre. From an innocuous looking play the ball by Robson, Davidson flashed the ball to Devonshire who ran a scissors move with Sully. With the embrocation on his long legs shining in the sunlight Clive was away and in those situations there was no catching him as he glided in from 40 yards out and Boxall converted to see us back in the lead 22-21. Then as so often happens to us in those situations, disaster almost struck. Mick Harrison pulled off a great tackle around the chest of Hepplestone as the Huddersfield prop drove into our 25, but the referee saw it differently and immediately awarded a penalty. A round of, “Oh ,Oh, Oh, Oh what a referee” with the usual flourish of expletives at the end rang out for the FC contingent on the banking behind the goal, but it was to no avail and from barely 25 yards out and dead level with the middle of the posts with less than a minute left, Hooson prepared to convert the penalty to win the game, Then the strangest thing happened. The bloke next to me shouted “Blow you Buggers Blow” and despite the fact it was the most ridiculous of requests and unlikely to change anything at all…..we all did. I am sure our actions had no effect whatsoever on the trajectory of the kick but the sight of 150 burly East Yorkshiremen with their cheeks puffed out might just have put the kicker off, because his conversion attempt glanced the outside of the posts and bounced wide. We didn’t even have time to restart the game before referee Givens had blown for time and we had done it and won what was a very exciting game at a famous old ground, by just one point. It was that blowing stuff that anchors the game in my memory and it still provides me with some great reminiscences of a great encounter in a much less complicated time!

So just less than three weeks and two more Friendlies and we will be underway in a difficult looking opener at Wakefield, a club that are notoriously strong starters in the league. We have seen quite a bit of our team, but some players of course are still very much ‘under wraps’. Still yesterday there was a lot that was good and whatever else, our backs look really strong and potent, however I still need to see Manu. Ellis, Miniciello, Taylor and Houghton in that pack to know whether we are stronger or weaker up front. Still, I guess after two false starts we learned a lot more yesterday and so it’s on to Salford next weekend for the full first teams run out. Thanks so much for reading the Diary and for all your comments and suggestions since the last one and at the KCOM yesterday. We are still moving forward and I hope that we will be ready once the new season starts next month. Thanks again for all your support.

Faithfully Yours

Wilf